Songs of Liberation

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

Syed Ashraf Ali
Music is poetry distilled into sound, music is the eye of the ear, music is the speech of the angels, music is the medicine of a troubled mind - music has indeed been defined in thousand and one ways. Whatever may be the definitions, it is accepted by one and all that music is the language of emotions and that this language is universal - it transcends the barrier men put up against each other. Its vocabulary has been shaped by thousands of years of human experiences; its rhetoric mirrors man's existence, his place in nature and in society. Music indeed plays a vital role in the life of a man in every sphere of activity and in every domain of thought.

Since music is related to the profoundest experiences of the individual and the group, it is nothing surprising that the tyranny and oppression of the conquering nations and the struggle for freedom of the subjugated also give rise to emotions that find an ideal expression in music. The German War of Liberation against Napoleon in the early part of the 19th century released a surge of patriotic sentiment that resulted in memorable songs and folklore opera like Weber's The Marksman. Poland's struggle for freedom from Tsarist rule aroused the national poet in Chopin. A united Italy seeking independence from Austria found her national artist in Verdi. Quest for independence in the world of music led Russia to Glinka and Tchaikovsky.

Bangladesh provides an ideal environment for a steady and healthy growth of music. Its countless squares of verdant cropland, luxurious tropical forests, lush green verdure and foliage, meandering rivers and sparkling, ever-flowing rivulets, abundant sunshine together with the quick rotation of six seasons with their varying clouds and characteristics, create an unforgettable impression of peace and fascinating beauty. No wonder, in the historic struggle for liberation in 1971 - one of the bloodiest strife in history - music had as usual played a remarkable and significant role. Music has indeed been the authentic voice of a civilization that has seen many rises and falls, that has passed through and survived many vicissitudes of prosperity and poverty, of glory and abjection, but has never ceased to be creative in the worst periods of defeat, has never abandoned its quest for the Eternal even in periods of highest prosperity.

Bangladesh's struggle for emancipation from the clutches of alien domination has a long and chequered history behind. The bud of Bangladeshi independence, whose fragrance was effectively perceived for the first time through the glorious Language Movement in 1952, sprouted in all its splendour into a full bloom through the War of Independence in 1971. It was a song - Amar Bhaier Raktey Rangano Ekushey February - with a haunting melody from a genius like Altaf Mahmood - which had always been a very important factor in keeping up the tempo of our long and gruelling struggle at right pitch. But it will be absolutely unjustified if we prepare any list of songs and melodies that helped to boost up the morale of the freedom-hungry Bangladeshis without first paying tributes to the memory of the two great maestros, Tagore and Nazrul, whose songs have become almost synonymous with the culture and tradition of Bangladesh.

The tremendous impact of Tagore songs on our daily activities, on our hopes and aspirations, and on our struggle for independence is known to one and all. Each change of the season, each aspect of our country's landscape, every undulation of the human heart, in sorrow or in joy, has found its voice in some song of his. In our society, they are sung in religious gatherings no less than in concert halls. Patriots have mounted the gallows with his songs on their lips, and young lovers unable to express the depth of their feeling sing his songs and feel the weight of their dumbness relieved. Foolish attempts at minimizing his popularity in the sixties proved futile and to some extent counter-productive ¾ Bangladeshis very wisely "ignored the ignorant." In 1971, people even risked their lives to listen to Tagore songs broadcast from the Swadhin Bangla Betar. The due recognition of Amar Sonar Bangla as the National Anthem of sovereign Bangladesh indeed testifies to the glorious contribution of Tagore and his songs to our Liberation Struggle.

Kazi Nazrul Islam, the 'Great Rebel', perhaps occupies a unique place in the history of struggle for emancipation. The songs of the indomitable Rebel, whom Tagore called "the mutinous child of the goddess of the Universe", not only played a very vital role in our struggle for independence, but it also very effectively inspired and influenced freedom fighters in other parts of this sub-continent. He was undoubtedly a genius of the first water, and whether in prose or in poetry, our beloved Rebel could breathe fire like an avenging angel and warble, when the mood seized him, like a refreshing, sparkling mountain-stream. Vibrant words set to exhilarating music, his marching songs spread far and wide and inspired the oppressed and the depressed in every nook and corner of Bangladesh. But this was nothing new - even Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, while organizing the Indian National Army (INA) gratefully acknowledged : "On our way to the war - we shall sing Nazrul's songs and proceed." No wonder, the brilliant songs of Nazrul, whose rhythm heaves and swells like the demented waves of the sea lashed by wind, inspired the 75 million Bangladeshis, prepared their imagination for the glorious version of a sovereign state of their own, urging them to wake up from their slumber, to unite and to overthrow the foreign domination - by "tearing apart, piercing, smashing", if necessary, even "the Sun, the Moon and the planets". As a result, the valiant freedom fighters in 1971 braved the bullets smilingly and marched triumphantly towards emancipation and victory with the songs of the daring Rebel on their lips. Very few of us know that the songs which the Occupation Forces in 1971 banned comprised not only Tagore and folk songs but also included a good number of Nazrul songs like Karar Oi Loho Kapat, Bhenge Phyal, Kar Re Lopat. Incidentally, it was this 'banned' creation of the great maestro which was very rightly chosen as the first song to be broadcast from the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra in Mujibnagar on the 25th May, 1971. The wise and happy selection of Chal, Chal, Chal as the March Song of the Bangladesh Armed Forces very eloquently indicates and acknowledges the unsurpassable contribution of Nazrul and his songs to our historic struggle for independence.

But Tagore and Nazrul were not the only poets whose songs inspired the Bangladeshis in their long quest for sovereignty. Enchanting melodies like D.L. Roy's Dhono Dhanye Pushpa Bhara, broadcast over and again by the then Radio Pakistan, Dhaka in March, 1971 and the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra in Mujibnagar, fascinated the listeners in the difficult hours. A good number of poems by the renowned poets like Sukanta Bhattacharya and Jibananda Das, hitherto almost unknown to the realm of music, were set to tunes by the Swadhin Bangla Betar and enthralled the listeners. Many other songs by poets of comparatively lesser caliber and fame also rejuvenated the morale of the suffering millions in the then East Pakistan. Village bards like Mohammed Shah Bangalee, Monoranjan Sircar, Shah Ali Sircar, Mohammad Ali Bangalee took the pain and risk to cross the border and pour out songs to encourage and inspire not only the freedom fighters but also the 65 million captives in the occupied territory as well. The emotion was so intense, the tempo so high and the spirit so indomitable that even a crippled singer like Mofiz Angur, literally crawling on the ground, had the courage and conviction to reach Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, not on his feet but on his elbows and knees, to render services to the cause of liberation.

It is indeed very difficult to throw light on all the hit songs broadcast by the Voice of the Nation, Swadhin Bangla Betar. The limited space available will be too insufficient to cover the long list. A few are cited below to provide only a bird's eye view.

Fazle Khoda's Salam, Salam, Hajaar Salam was first broadcast by Radio Pakistan, Dhaka in March, 1971. It was repeated innumerable number of times by the Swadhin Bangla Betar. One has to listen to songs like this to realize how compellingly a melody may capture the accent of tenderness and patriotism.

"With an endless meaning in the narrow span of a song", as Tagore called it, Mora Ekti Phul Ke Bachabo Bole Juddhya Kori and Tir Hara Ei Dheuer Shagar Pari Debo go by Apel Mahmood captured the attention of millions, and Apel Mahmood as a singer earned overnight nationwide fame. Ek Shagore Rakter Binimoye Banglar Swadhinata Anlo Jara, written by Gobinda Haldar and sung by Apel Mahmood and Swapna Roy, was another top favourite which has been duly selected as the signature tune of BTV's National News.

A song that served as poignant consolation to mothers who had seen their children embrace Shahadat in the cricible of war was Bhebo Na Go Maa Tomar Chhelera Harte Giyechhe Pothe. Bangla Moder Bangla Maa Amra Tomar Koti Shantan addressed the theme of the indivisibility of the Bengali psyche when it came to questions of tradition and culture. Whereas songs like Banglar Mukh Aami Dekhiyachhi and Oi Pohailo Timir Ratri fortified patriotism, lilting but forceful melodies like Durgom Giri Kantar Moru Dustor Parabar and Bandh Bhenge Dao strengthened the old surge of defiance of the enemy in one's soul. Mention must be made of the beautiful song Banglar Hindu Banglar Bouddha Banglar Khristan Banglar Mussulman/ Amra Shobay Bangalee which testified to the fact that Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists all rose en bloc against the tyranny and oppression of the then occupation army.

Syed Shamsul Huda's Rakte Jodi Phote Jibaner Phul Phutuk Na, Abdul Latif's Sona, Sona, Sona, Lokey Bale Sona, T.H. Sikder's Anek Rakta Diechi Amra, Habibur Rahman's Protidiner Suryadaye Tomai Dheki, Sikander Abu Zafar's Janater Sangram Cholbe Cholbe, Shahidul Islam's Chand Tumi Phire Jao, were some of the haunting melodies which not only rose to the occasion but also boosted up the morale of the Bangladeshis, the heart of each one of whom throbbed with genuine emotions, pulsated with hopes and aspirations, dreamed beautiful dreams of a free Bangladesh, a happier Bangladesh, a renascent Bangladesh, a sovereign Bangladesh.

It is not that each and every song put out by Swadhin Bangla Betar was a hit, some were undoubtedly "adolescent in sentiment, immature in language". But there is simply no denial of the fact that for sheer delight in the creation of forms, for the correct seriousness of mood, playfulness of thought and liveliness of language, for exquisite frivolity of genius, Bangla music never produced anything finer, whether before or after, than the songs which led the Bangladeshis to ultimate victory and sovereignty in 1971.

In beautiful songs like Habibur Rahman's Muktir Aki Path Sangram and Md. Muniruzzaman's Bandhu Ebar Tule Nao Hatey Hat, both blessed with the golden touch of Azad Rahman's magic wand, the imagery and diction conjure up the black terror of the elements, the accents resound with the thunder of doom - each testifies to the fact that humanity is not flotsam and jetsam to drift along with the waters, following the easy path of least resistance, humanity is like a rock in the midst of swirling waters holding aloft its great heritage over the flux.

But as regards popularity, it was perhaps Joy Bangla Banglar Joy which topped the list. The lilting melody of Anwar Parvez together with the enchanting voice of Shahnaz Rahmatullah and the lyric by Gazi Mazharul Anwar resulted in a superb production which was adored and literally hummed by millions, young and old, even in the worst period of occupation. It should be mentioned in this connection that Mafizur Rahman, the first Bengali Director General of Radio Pakistan, had the gutts to permit in writing the broadcast of this popular song from all the six Radio Stations in the then East Pakistan. This lilting melody became so popular that it was selected as the Signature Tune of the Voice of the oppressed and depressed Bangladeshis- Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra. Many a Bangladeshi indeed went to the extent of even 'exaggerating' the impact of this song and inadvertently thought that it could possibly be selected as the National Anthem of Bangladesh.

Purbo Digante Shurya Utheche was another song which enthralled the listeners all over the sub-continent. This beautiful song emanated from the powerful pen of Gobinda Haldar and was blessed with the experience of a maestro like Samar Das. Another remarkable creation was Sardar Alauddin's Jagat Bashi Dekhey Jao Ashia.

The immortal words uttered by Winston Churchill after the Battle of Britain aptly applies to the singers, lyricists and producers of the Shwadhin Bangla Betar Kendra : “Never indeed in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

It is needless to emphasize that those who successfully tried to motivate the Bangladeshis through songs and music towards the ultimate goal of liberation had to face many a trial and tribulation. The political implications of musical nationalism were not lost upon the authorities. The valiant Director General of Radio Pakistan, who had the courage and conviction to permit in writing broadcast of Joy Bangla Banglar Joy, was suddenly transferred to a comparatively weaker or insignificant post. For his golden voice behind numerous songs like Salam Salam Hajaar Salam and Sangram, Sangram, Sangram, Abdul Jabber was given 14 years' rigorous imprisonment. A good number of officers of Radio Pakistan, Dhaka were suspended and interrogated by the occupation army. Some were even physically tortured or dismissed. Day in and day out attempts were made to nip in the bud the endeavour of the singers and the composers to rouse the nation towards Bangladeshi nationalism. Censoring went to such a ridiculous extent that even the inimitable words of Kazi Nazrul Islam were changed to satisfy ignorance and foolishness. But this was nothing new in history. Verdi's operas had to be altered again and again to suit the Austrian censor. Sibelius's Finlandia with its rousing trumpet calls was forbidden by the Tsarist police when Finland was demanding her independence at the turn of the nineteenth century. But who can stop the nightingale from singing?

The torture and tyranny proved to be a blessing in disguise ¾ Bangladeshis drew such strength, vigour and music out of it that the experiment may be said to have revolutionized the very future of Bangladeshi music. For composers and singers started pouring out in greater numbers and in hitherto unknown excellence. None cared what his fate might be, but knew it well that he had "lived in love, and not in mere time". On being asked, "Will thy songs remain?”, he would smile and say, in the words of Tagore:

"I know not, but this I know
That often when I sang I found my eternity."
Syed Ashraf Ali is former Director General, Islamic Foundation Bangladesh.